“The Force of Kindness,” by Sharon Salzberg
Sharon Salzberg has an excellent reputation for creating wonderful dharma books, but when I first saw the title, The Force of Kindness, I thought the subject matter was a little… soft. How much can be said about kindness?
Then, too, the book itself is diminutive in size — a standard Sounds True publication of less than a hundred pages, with a guided meditation CD included.
But that was exactly what Sharon addressed — the incorrect impression that kindness itself is a soft topic with minimal applications. Sure, you can be kind to a lot of people — but how much is there to say about it? In very short order, your entire thinking about kindness changes and you see it for the very powerful and courageous act that it is.
She begins with a walk through kindness as we grow to adulthood, and how we can be unkind to ourselves or not fully kind because it isn’t coming from a genuine place.
“When we are devoted to the development of kindness, it becomes our ready response, so that reacting from compassion, from caring, is not a question of giving ourselves a lecture: ‘I don’t really feel like it, but I’d better be helpful, or what would people think?'” –Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness, page 8
With further reflection, I discovered that she’s right; kindness is a force, every bit as powerful as any other act of inclusion that comes from a place of love and compassion. Unlike many so-called ‘positive’ emotions, kindness is itself the act of application — moving the intent of compassion into action, even (perhaps especially) for yourself.
As I read this book, which I estimated at first I could finish in an afternoon, I fell into the pattern of reading a page or two and then reflecting on it for a day or two. The information was especially relevant to me personally, as someone who is chronically unkind to herself, but in any walk of life there is something here that can be applied.
If anything, this should have been a full-length study book with structured exercises.
The book is a collection of stories to make the force of kindness more apparent, but since the topic itself was demonstrated so well as a way to move forward and into an inclusive way of being, I would like to have had more guidance about exactly how to be proactive with the information from the beginning, beyond the reflections at the end of each chapter. For the most part, the reflections called on one to think, stay open and pay attention to this or that — but not many ways to be kind in a more dynamic, active way.
All in all, it’s a wonderful place to start this study. I’m sure, with a longer book, Sharon would have fleshed out all of those points. As it is, this is an excellent primer for looking at yourself and others in a much more kind way, and for seeing kindness itself as a more powerful connective thread between us.
“It’s easy for us to feel separate from other people and from other forms of life, especially if we don’t have a reliable connection to our own inner world. Without insight into our internal cycles of pleasure and pain, desires and fears, there is a strong sense of being removed, apart or disconnected. When we do have an understanding of our inner lives, it provides an intuitive opening, even without words, to the ties that exist between ourselves and others.” – Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness, page 32